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Book Review: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Publisher’s description

ra6A gorgeous and emotionally resonant debut novel about a half-Japanese teen who grapples with social anxiety and her narcissist mother in the wake of a crushing rejection from art school.

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

starfish17-year-old Nebraskan Kiko Himura prefers painting to fitting in (her words). She’s always felt like the odd one out, and her social anxiety hasn’t exactly helped her feel like she can fit in. Her mother is white and her father is Japanese. Her terrible mother is pretty racist nonstop, constantly making Kiko feel awful for everything having to do with being Japanese. She feels like she’ll never be good enough for her mother—her horrible, self-absorbed, hateful, AWFUL, emotionally abusive mother. Kiko also feels completely responsible for her parents’ divorce. Then there’s the fact that she was sexually abused by her uncle (her mother’s brother) and her mother refuses to believe that. Have I mentioned that her mother is unrelentingly TERRIBLE? (In fact, my one real complaint is that Kiko’s mother isn’t given any real depth or exploration, and Kiko just kind of writes her off as crazy, never my favorite excuse for someone’s villainous behavior.) Kiko hopes graduating and moving to New York for art school will give her the escape she wants and a chance to start over, to find out who she really is. When she doesn’t get accepted, she isn’t sure what she’ll do. But a new plan forms after two surprising things happen: One, her uncle, that uncle, moves in with them. And two, Kiko reconnects with Jamie, her childhood best friend, who now lives in California. He invites her to stay with his family while she figures out her future. There, she looks at art schools, gets encouragement from a high profile artist who takes her under his wing, and, of course, realizes she’s totally in love with Jamie. She begins to feel the love and support she never got at home, but it scares it, especially with Jamie. She’s worried she’ll lose him and she doesn’t want to become dependent on him. It’s a summer of big feelings and transformations for Kiko—one that grows infinitely more complicated when some pretty big secrets finally come to light.

 

This beautifully written book is a powerful look at breaking free, finding your voice, and coming to finally understand your own self-worth. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481487726

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 09/26/2017

Book Review: Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman

Publisher’s description

girl-out-of-waterFans of Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen will fall in love this contemporary debut about finding yourself-and finding love-in unexpected places.

Ocean breeze in her hair and sand between her toes, Anise can’t wait to spend the summer before her senior year surfing and hanging out on the beach with friends. Santa Cruz is more than her home-it’s her heart. But when her aunt, a single mother, is in a serious car accident, Anise must say goodbye to California to help care for her three young cousins.

Landlocked Nebraska is the last place Anise wants to be. Sure, she loves her family, but it’s hard to put her past behind her when she’s living in the childhood house of the mother who abandoned her. And with every Instagram post, her friends back home feel further away.

Then she meets Lincoln, a charismatic, one-armed skater who challenges her to swap her surfboard for a skateboard. Because sometimes the only way to find your footing is to let go.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This is an excellent book to add to your summer reading lists or summer reading displays you may be making.

 

Anise is not thrilled to be leaving behind her large group of close friends in Santa Cruz to spend the summer helping care for her cousins in Nebraska. Many of her friends will be heading off to college in the fall, so it’s their last real summer together. But Anise loves her family and knows how much her aunt, recently in a car accident, needs the help, so she quickly gets over her attitude and immerses herself in her new, temporary life. Her cousins include busy 9-year-old twin boys and a somewhat secretive and moody nearly 13-year-old girl. For Anise, an only child whose mom bailed a long time ago, it’s a much different pace of life than she’s used to. Prior to this, she had never left California and can’t understand why anyone would want to. Why are her friends going away to college when life at home is so idyllic? Nebraska has a high potential to suck: there’s no ocean for surfing, Anise is away from her friends, and she’ll be spending the summer in the house her absent mother grew up in. But before long, she meets the instantly warm and chatty Lincoln, a skateboarder who loves adventure. He convinces Anise to start skating and they hang out a lot. Despite having kissed her best friend, Eric, the night before leaving CA, it’s instantly obvious that Anise and Lincoln will have a thing. While Anise still feels it’s hard to be away from her friends and all the action back home, she becomes pretty crappy at communicating with her friends now that she’s spending so much time with Lincoln. Lincoln has moved around a lot and wants to travel the world, something Anise just can’t understand, stubbornly clinging to the idea that Santa Cruz is the only place for her. But the summer away isn’t all skating and kissing. Anise grapples with her feelings about her mother’s (repeated) abandonment and eventually starts to worry if she’s somehow like her and if maybe her life is a reaction to her mother’s inability to stay in one place. When she and Lincoln road trip back to Santa Cruz, she also discovers that friendship (and communication) is more complicated than she thought.

 

This is a quick, relatively light read. I found the middle 80%, where she’s in Nebraska and discovering new people, experiences, and feelings to be much more engaging than her time at home with her friends. Anise is a little self-centered and oblivious, but that’s certainly nothing to hold against a teenager (or a person, period). While there are certainly more serious topics that come up in the story, they’re not particularly explored much in depth, resulting in what feels like just a nice, quick summer read—some summer adventure, new experiences, and romance that seems time-limited. Silverman’s debut has wide appeal and will be an easy one to recommend this summer to fans of contemporary YA. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781492646860

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Publication date: 05/02/2017

DVD Review: Political Animals + Giveaway

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book (or, in this case, DVD), finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of School Library Journal.

 

political animalsPolitical Animals

87 min and 53 sec., Dist. by the Video Project. 2016. $89.

Gr 9 Up–The personal is political in this examination of the hard-fought progress for LGBT rights. This engrossing documentary focuses on the work of the first four openly gay state legislators in California, all lesbians. Pioneering politicians Sheila Kuehl, Carole Migden, Jackie Goldberg, and Christine Kehoe (all elected between 1994 and 2000) advocated for laws protecting LGBT people and expanding civil rights. The film looks at the bills these groundbreaking legislators authored, such as one adding sexual orientation to the list of protected identities in schools. Included are extensive archival footage from legislative meetings from the 1990s and early 2000s, interviews with the women, information on their history of activism, and a reunion of the four. Fierce advocates for equal protection, the women also discuss the importance of straight allies and how it felt to listen to their colleagues fight against fundamental rights these four were being denied. The profile ends with the victory of marriage equality in 2015. The state assembly sessions scenes highlight the women’s impassioned speeches and the heated debates often marked by hostility from other legislators. Listening to testimonies and watching bills (particularly the one protecting LGBT students) fail repeatedly reveal just how hard the fight has been. This is a compelling and enlightening exploration of trailblazing women and their lawmaking. VERDICT: Highly recommended for public library collections where documentaries are popular and for high school history curricula on LGBTQ rights, pioneering women, and political movements.

 

Head on over to the Rafflecopter to enter to win this DVD. If you’re a librarian or a teacher, this would be a good addition to your collection! Ends Thursday, March 2. US ONLY. 

Book Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Publisher’s description

we-are-okayYou go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

An intimate whisper that packs an indelible punch, We Are Okay is Nina LaCour at her finest. This gorgeously crafted and achingly honest portrayal of grief will leave you urgent to reach across any distance to reconnect with the people you love.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I love Nina LaCour. When this book showed up in my mailbox, I was delighted. Because here’s the thing: I’m going to guess I haven’t been alone in having a really hard time concentrating on a book lately. I started and abandoned a whole bunch of books in January. I read this until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. Then the next morning, I read it while waiting for my doctor. For once, I wanted her to be running behind, because I was down to about twenty pages. I finished it later that same day, sobbing over my gummy candy and desperately hoping my kid would stay playing outside for a few more minutes so I could just keep on crying. It was exactly the book I needed to read at that moment in time. It’s a relatively quick read, and since it’s Nina LaCour, you know it’s going to be a deep and beautifully-written story. This is one of those books where I just don’t even want to say much of anything beyond OH MY GOD, GO READ THIS, IT’S STUNNING. I want the story to unfold for you like it did for me. I hadn’t so much as read the flap copy. I didn’t need to. It takes a while to figure out where the story might be going, and even once the pieces start to fall into place, it never feels predictable. This is, hands down, one of saddest books I have read in a very long time. But here’s how I mean that: you won’t cry all the way through. It’s not all doom and gloom. There is a lot of love and friendship to be found here. But Marin’s grief and loneliness will just destroy you.

 

And really, that’s all I’m telling you. The small summary up there of the plot gives you just enough of an outline to rope you in, but doesn’t reveal any of the really significant parts of the story. All you need to know is that this book will break your heart. But it won’t do it in a way that will leave you hopeless—I promise. A beautiful story of love, grief, and learning to heal. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525425892

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Publication date: 02/14/2017